Friday, December 26, 2008

CNN Hero - 2008

I caught the programme last night on CNN. It was a repeat telecast and the winner, out of 10 nominees was:

Liz McCartney, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana: McCartney moved to New Orleans to dedicate herself to helping Hurricane Katrina survivors move back into their homes. Her nonprofit, St. Bernard Project, has rebuilt the homes of more than 120 families for free.

I was surprised to see Cambodia's own Phymean Noun, listed as coming from

Toronto, Ontario: Growing up in Cambodia, Noun struggled to complete high school. Today, she offers hundreds of Cambodian children who work in Phnom Penh's trash dump a way out through free schooling and job training. See

Noun attended the event and accepted her award for being a CNN hero on the very stage where the Oscars are given out. She wore a lovely Cambodian traditional dress and received the award from fellow Asian, Lucy Liu. Noun thanked her husband Steve (I guess he's the Canadian connection) for his support in her project.

Personally I was disappointed to learn who won. I don't mean to discredit Liz McCartney's selfless acts, and she is the perfect campaigner--articulate, focused and kind.

And I do understand that suffering is universal. But seriously, how can you compare losing your home in the US to living on the streets eating garbage? At least the Katrina victims had a home. At least they were born American. I think most people would agree they've struck the lottery in terms of where to be born. In general, Americans have a shot at a better life than someone born in Cambodia, or Mexico or Malawi. Indeed, this is why Americans voted for Liz McCartney, because "Nobody in the USA should have to live like this."

But I was not surprised, I have to say. The winner is chosen on the basis of votes cast online. Already the result was skewed in favour of US nominees, for how many in the third world have access to the Internet to vote for their heroes, with whom they are more familiar, seeing their work publicised in local media, and have a closer connection to. By the same token, McCartney won because Katrina is something close to home and the hearts of Americans; "top of mind" as we say in marketing speak.

I am sure this Internet voting system also played a part in Angkor Wat not being selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World last year. Whether or not Angkor Wat deserves to be on the list is a separate matter. The point is organisers should acknowledge an Internet poll never reflects global tastes and is just another beauty contest.

I voted for Phymean Noun, of course. But as I was watching the programme I already knew who my heros are:

Maria Ruiz, El Paso, Texas: Several times a week, Ruiz crosses the border into Juarez, Mexico, bringing food, clothing and toys to hundreds of impoverished children and their families.


Marie Da Silva, Los Angeles, California: Having lost 14 family members to AIDS, the nanny funds a school in her native Malawi, where half a million children have been orphaned by the disease.

Maria Ruiz crosses the border into Mexico, a car trip that takes between 1.5 to 2.5 hours each time. For the first three years of her food programme, she fed more than a thousand people each time. She continued even when her donors cut funding, cooking food in her own kitchen and making the drive herself. Watching her selfless actions, carried out for years, really brought tears to my eyes.

Marie Da Silva is a nanny and had worked with the same employer for 10 years. What was amazing to me was how this nanny used her salary to fund the school in Malawi. I mean, she is not some top corporate executive or banker earning tons of money. She's a nanny. Her other nanny friends also gave USD10 each a month to her school. Simply amazing.

1 comment:

Tanya said...

Hi Diana Thanks for the birthday wishes! I am in Singapore until tomorrow. We lived here before we moved to PP so it is a bit like coming home. We have friends here (especially Mac who still has a lot of his old school friends here) very important because the accommodation is so expensive. I have a real soft spot for the little red dot because spent some of my childhood here (in Sophia rd) in the 70s before it was the mega mall mecca it is now. I hope you had a great christmas I will definately try to call in again next time we are in Siem Reap.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin